It is worth noting that, while this article concentrates on women’s participation, Alliance partners emphasize the importance of striving for inclusivity and fairness in all areas, including gender, social and ethnic backgrounds, and sexual orientations.
The following are some of the main challenges Alliance partners feel that professional women continue to face:
According to the World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap Report 2022” that benchmarked 146 countries for that year, the gender gap closed by 68.1% in 2022 and it cautions that “Gender parity is not recovering…. It will take another 132 years to close the global gender gap.”
In the European Union, the gender pay gap stood at 12.7 % in 2021 and has only changed minimally over the last decade. In the United States, according to Pew Research Center, American women earned $0.82 for every $1.00 earned by men, not much more than the $0.80 they made on a man’s dollar in 2002.
Although progress is being made in various countries, with both public and private dedicated task forces such as the Gender Equality Bureau in Japan or the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) Amendment Act in South Africa, the gender pay gap remains a real and relevant issue.
Associations need to task themselves with ensuring that the compensation for women in their organizations is reflective of their responsibilities and experience in a way that is consistent with their male colleagues.
Juggling Professional and Family Obligations
The global jury is out on whether the workplace shift from the office to the home during the Covid pandemic proved to be more of a strain or conversely positive for working women with children, while many firms worldwide have been or are transitioning to all virtual and with success.
The World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report, drawing on 2019 data from 33 countries representing 54% of the global working-age population, found that “men’s share of time spent in unpaid work as a proportion spent in total work was 19%, while for women this was 55%. With rising childcare costs, there is a high risk that an asymmetric demand to provide unpaid care work will continue to be imposed on women.”
The third edition of McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey shows that positive reaction to the opportunity to work from home is consistent across genders, ethnicities, ages and income levels. Interestingly, however, the gap seems to be in the opportunity to work remotely, with a reported 61% of men in the survey who were allowed remote work versus 52% of women.
What changes can be made to ensure that women are given an equal opportunity to achieve work-life balance? Some organizations are doing something about it: Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has implemented several initiatives related to the Act on Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace, under which companies can be certified, according to a set of criteria, as a company actively promoting empowerment of women and work-life balance. (Alliance Japanese partner Congrès Inc. holds this certification.)
Alliance partners offer that organizations need to consider the culture you create and what is in place to foster the creativity and innovation. The most obvious one is simply providing more flexible working hours to accommodate things like driving a child to school or bringing a sick child to a doctor’s appointment.
Some other initiatives that associations can embrace include investing in technology to facilitate the integration of remote work and training employees to create workplaces that integrate people working remotely and on-site.
Proper maternity leave is another important initiative, and the length of such leave varies from country to country. According to the World Population Review, Bulgaria offers the longest minimum maternity leave at 58.6 weeks, while the Unites States is the only advanced economy in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that does not guarantee any paid family and medical leave to its entire workforce.
Alliance partners maintain that a generous maternity leave allows a woman to return to the workplace in better condition, physically and mentally, and ready to dive back into their professional roles. Moreover, organizations that offer paternity leave also allow the flexibility for both men to participate more actively in their role as fathers and for women to re-enter the workforce earlier. Plenty of countries offer some form of paternity leave, with Spain (minimum 12 weeks) and Portugal (minimum 5 weeks) leading the way.
The Onus of Proving One’s Relevance
Alliance partners point out that while great strides have been made in including women in the professional sphere, and we are seeing more women in positions of power and thought leadership, genuine acceptance of women leaders is not as widespread as we may think. Alliance partners notice that women at the helm of projects and organizations often experience “imposter syndrome” where they may not feel as qualified as they actually are to occupy a position of leadership. Certain women may feel lonely as well as scrutinized by their male peers, as, as a result, they may feel compelled to prove their merit on top of performing well, all while maintaining their self-confidence.
There’s Still a Long Way to Go
The fact of the matter is, there is still much work to be done to help cement a woman’s presence and voice in the professional sphere, especially when it comes to the inclusion of women in high-level leadership positions. Whether we are talking about corporate CEOs or board and association CEOs, we are still nowhere near gender parity (let alone diversity). Alliance partners point out that women-focused events are as popular as ever, and the mere fact that we need “women’s” or minority-specific events speaks to the challenges that continue to stand in the way of true equity and that certain population segments remain marginalized.
What is the most effective way for associations to make sure they are doing what they can to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)? Alliance partners point out that prior to integrating DEI, associations should task themselves with assessing their performance as far as gender diversity goes. Some of the Alliance’s clients have taken active measures including surveys, interviews, and focus groups to understand the reasons for a lack of gender diversity in all facets of their organization.
Associations must also track and measure their progress. According to the Center for Association Leadership, 33% of associations track the percentage of the board from underrepresented populations, while 29% track the percentage of board or subcommittee leadership from underrepresented populations. In addition, 11% track the percentage of candidates from underrepresented populations to whom offers are made, as well as board retention from underrepresented populations. The idea is that associations must have intentionality in looking at all aspects, including board/committee makeup, presenter balance, panel balance, and author balance, as well as reflecting and addressing its own inherent bias.
Its important that associations take a stand with regard to their members and the industries they represent. Associations have the power of the “bully pulpit” to point out the issue of equity and encourage members to address it.
No association is ever “done” with inclusion; there has to be continued effort and accountability. If an association is lacking women in leadership positions, the “There aren’t any good women/people out there” excuse is not an answer. It simply means the association is looking in the wrong place.
The Many Advantages of Inclusion
Aside from “looking good,” which is a superficial motivation in the pursuit of inclusion, associations stand to gain tremendously from diversity in their workplaces and on their boards. For one, associations enjoy a stronger reputation and, as a result, are better at attracting new talent. Employee morale gets a boost, as trust between colleagues is strengthened. Associations also benefit from a wider range of thoughts and perspectives. Women work together and solve problems in ways that are different from men, thus providing richer discussions, problem solving and brainstorming exercises. Associations widen the conversation and can tackle issues from entirely different angles. In today’s world especially, associations and organizations need the best thinking possible so that problems can be solved at every level.
This all being said, however, Alliance partners caution organizations to not allow the quest for gender equity to trump everything else. You still want the best person for every role within your organization, and while a 50-50 split between female and male representation is ideal, it’s not always possible, and should not be a goal at the expense of that association’s overall performance and effectiveness.
The Future Looks Bright
When looking towards the future, Alliance partners feel optimistic about women’s possibilities. They maintain that conditions and opportunities will continue to improve, especially as associations become increasingly aware of the values and merit behind diversity and equity. Organizations need to look more closely at their goals and accountability benchmarks as they relate to gender (and all forms of) equity, they need to re-examine their hiring policies and consider providing more flexible working conditions to accommodate a better work-life balance. While including such measures may be a steep learning curve for some associations, Alliance partners maintain that diversity of voices and the growth that can stem from such diversity are ultimately well worth the effort.
 Washington Center of Equitable Growth: Factsheet: What does the research say about the economics of paid leave? April 2021